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And Still You Whisper of the War

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With April came change: he saw flowers bloom in dead land; fields swaying high, breeding calm thoughts of food in the owners’ mind; children walked up to them, “Thank you, sir, thank you.” Memories from distant days intermingled with those of recent ones conspiring to make him believe that yes, he wanted this, all of it; to wield a sword with the band had been his own desire, born out of himself. At night inside his tent to no one he would whisper asleep with a dry, tired tongue, “He wants me” and the glint of the sword in the dark, an all seeing eye, looked over him. “Yes, he wants this too,” would whisper his tongue at once sweet and bitter from the wine and the honey, and he’d fall in a slumber where silver threads formed a path he could walk without faltering.

The sun of May shone over their heads, he stood on the battlefield and watched Griffith at a distance, clear blue eyes fixed everywhere at once as if his scope took on the whole world and every little detail in it at once. Long hair flowed in the wind, head turned quickly: a fox ran not far from where he stood on his horse and Griffith had seen it without effort through the same intense eyes that now fixed themselves on Guts and smiled, posed like a hand upon his shoulder, “You’re a good soldier.” He could almost make out the words hidden inside the gaze, “A valuable soldier,” and was entirely sure about wishing to stay.

June came without him knowing. Days that passed as they had before held something within them, no more mere existence, there was purpose now and words rang true to his ears: purpose and meaning. Simple words once yet now he knew, he had learned, that words held keys and were important, and maybe, maybe, he could also have words for himself, ones he would someday make use of, but he swung his sword, “Don’t get carried away” he warned and did not listen.

July was too hot, too drowsy, the horizon danced with the air, sweating like him. Lying on a field that boiled under his back, he watched a girl put onions in solution inside a large opaque jar and thought it to be exactly the way he felt, an onion suspended in heat and time—an idea Griffith laughed at—and maybe it was the sun, beating down on them from the highest point in the sky, or maybe it was the armour, suffocating and rusting from the sweat and the heat, or maybe it was his exhaustion, the regular fatigue of war, but when he heard Corkus and the others whisper he was the favourite one, for a moment he believed it to be true.

One evening in August he returned to a large celebration Gaston, Judeau and Pippin urged him to join as he eventually did, sitting with legs crossed, completely aware of the place where Griffith sat when it struck him like the wind blowing through the plains, a lapse of not entirely painful lucidity, that somehow, somewhere down the line, he had become aware of the place where Griffith sat, where he stood, where he was at all times. He drank a second jug of liqueur in an instant which made him forget and all he retained from the last days of summer was the knowledge that he held a vision one time and it was gone.

September signalled the start of Autumn and he could feel the chilly breeze when the sword slashed the air, creating a breeze of its own. There was probably something different about him that he only came to notice when Griffith stood by his side wearing a slightly teasing smile. “Is Autumn your favourite season?” he asked childishly as if he were about to mock the answer. After a pause he didn’t really know the purpose of, he replied: “I had never thought of having a favourite season,” feeling oddly embarrassed about it and looking down at the marks left by his boots on the ground. Griffith said nothing, didn’t laugh and then rested his hand on Guts’ shoulder, “I don’t have one either,” he said. Guts called him a liar whilst they both chuckled and thoughts of choosing a favourite one crossed his mind.

October was marked by showers during long, warm days that made it harder to train with others as he’d promised to do, but there was always later and tomorrow. Somedays it wasn’t his fault, for Griffith called him to talk of things Guts cared very little for. The only reason he was there was Griffith’s need of someone who listened, someone to practice the proper manner of conversing with; he was training like one would train any other discipline but it meant something. Even if he refused when Griffith offered to teach him to read and write, he could—drunk with sleep and wine and honey—be sure of some meaning behind words.

November was a reunion of rain and mud and running around with teeth gritted. “I do care, I care a whole lot”, her face in his mind for too long, unshakable until he stood in front of the leader of the Hawks and it was as if no one else existed in the world, not even himself, “I do care.” Griffith tightly gripped his shoulder, “I know,” he leaned over to him, “I know,” and then after too long, or not enough, let go and walked away. Once Griffith was out of his sight, her face back in his mind, he had to repeat it out loud, “He knows, he knows” for it to be true. His voice, Griffith’s voice that he’d heard mere seconds ago, already only an echo in his mind and he gritted his teeth with all his might, holding on.

December seemed to be faraway and even as he counted the days and he knew the month was already halfway through, it managed to feel distant, unreachable, and he wished for it to end as soon as possible. Stupidly he shared his feelings about it with the girl in the best way he could which is to say not a very good way at all and she threw a punch in his direction, a soft one this time. “Griffith is right there,” she said, “he’s busy, this is his dream,” and there was no way Guts could detect in her voice the same edge he recognised in his when the wind blew freezing everything in its path.

He shivered through out all the nights that made up January, long since he’d seen a winter so rough that left soldiers bleeding and one young man whose foot remained inside the boot. He took walks late at night because the tent was too cold for sleep to come and he’d find Griffith under a tree, a small fire lighting his features in the dark, his hands busy at work—he carved, or wrote, or drew but Guts never looked at the hands because he feared not understanding—and Griffith would offer a seat by his side, taken with no hesitation. “It’s cold”, he’d say. “I like it,” was always Griffith’s answer and it wasn’t until the seventeenth night that he realised he’d spent seventeen nights sitting somewhere warm.

He was thankful of February for it left no time for the cold, or the fire, or the talks; still he felt alone on the battlefield one day but quickly recovered, knowing it was meant to be that way, because he was winning, and he was a good soldier, a trusted man. Even if she hated to admit it, he had even come to the aid of the squad under the girl’s orders, and even if he hated to admit it, she wasn’t that bad, just a little crazy, reckless, dangerous, but wasn’t everyone else that way? Then it would strike him that he had not seen Griffith all day and as the sun was setting he’d be able to make the familiar sillhoutte out on the horizon and it almost felt like he belonged there, watching weak rays of sun dance along silver hair.

March he thought might be wearing him down, maybe it was the coming of spring that made Griffith look tired, still he shook his head, “No way”, and patted him on the back: “Are you alright?” Griffith smiled calmly, “Yes, I am now,” softly leaning on the bigger man’s shoulder for rest and there they were: small lines under his eyes, shadows outlining his cheekbones, making them look sharper. Maybe it was true: he was worn out and everything was too much on him, but Griffith said no, it wasn’t like that, and he couldn’t bring himself to say “You can just order me to help you unburden the load” because he never knew what words to use and he might never learn and, he told himself, Griffith would know.

A night before the end of the month, he waited for Griffith outside the castle, watching and being watched by servant girls and footboys who dared not speak to him, a scarred, tall, menacing mercenary with his furrowed brow and monumental sword. He was out of place and everything around him knew and fought to constantly remind him of it: too tall for the archway and too dirty for the castle; too rough for the footboys and too distant for the servant girls. An old memory lingered in his mind for a while making him shuffle his feet fruitlessly wishing to kick it away, “Not now,” but it would not understand speech. Leaves rustled to his side, catching his attention, and he almost sighed in relief, turning to find the source of the sound where Griffith walked alongside some noble, exercising his conversation techniques, visibly excelling at it once more. It shouldn’t have mattered. He was there out of whim and yet there he stood, out of place and senselessly irritated at this new sight. Turning around, he grunted to himself, and walked away. Already his feet had walked him a long way when a tug on his cape forced him to turn, expecting to find the girl and her lectures trailing him, but there was Griffith, eyes wide in mockery or shock or relief, and the only word that left Guts’ mouth was “Hello.”

“Were you waiting for me?”

“I thought you were busy,” he said, looking to the sky, unsure of why he was so ashamed and angered. His lips curved in what pretended to be a smile but looked more like a grimace, because even though he could barely hear it, there was a small cold whisper that followed him wherever he went speaking of how he best walk alone or Griffith would never see him.

“I’m not busy. Let’s walk together,” was all Griffith said and the movement he performed to place himself right next to Guts washed everything anew. Same as the girl who gathers chestnuts when she unfolds her smock, letting the chestnuts fall, making the fabric once more smooth and white and free of everything, those words were all he needed for his anger to subside, for his shame to cool, for everything, even himself, to disappear.